How do you define vulnerability? What connotation does this word carry for you? You may be interested to know that the word vulnerability finds its origin in Latin. Vulneratus means to be wounded. For some this is a very scary concept. However, true intimacy cannot be found without true vulnerability.
Disclaimer: This post may open a can of worms in your relationship.
This is intended for couples hoping to improve their connection.
A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were naked, and they felt no shame. –Genesis 2:24-25
The characters in this story are said to have felt no shame. In other words, they were highly comfortable with vulnerability. There is no place more vulnerable than being naked. When we are laid bare emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, physically, this is an opportunity for intimacy to grow.
Please hear me say, we are talking about way more than sex here. Don’t get me wrong, sex can be a beautiful celebration of vulnerability between marriage partners. But vulnerability is bigger than that.
Shame is a part of the human condition. Let’s face it, we have all done things that we are not proud of. I am no exception. But we have to ask ourselves what we do with these feelings. Holding on to shame leads to feelings of failure, inadequacy, not measuring up, etc.
Blocks to intimacy:
What makes vulnerability so hard? If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we fear our partner may confirm for us what we are already thinking and feeling about ourselves in our own hearts.
Imagine the following scenario. The kids have been put to bed, and mom and dad sit down together on the couch.
Dad: Junior’s room is a mess.
Mom: Yeah, he had a lot of schoolwork, so he didn’t have time to get to that this afternoon.
Dad: I think that cleaning his room needs to be a higher priority.
Mom: Well, if it’s that important to you, then you handle it.
Dad: Why are you biting my head off?
Mom: *exasperated* I’m just going to go to bed. *leaves*
So, where do our negative messages come from?
- Messages we heard or perceived growing up.
- Feelings of inadequacy/failure/not measuring up.
- Unmet expectations that have been spoken or implied.
- Other sources of shame.
Activity: Identifying Intimacy Blocks
Think about the last argument that you had with your partner. Ask yourself these questions and allow yourself the time to explore your own responses. This is important stuff!
- At what point did you first feel your negative emotions triggered?
- What emotion did you personally have in that moment? How did it feel? If it was anger, was there something deeper?
- What message were you hearing from your partner or telling yourself?
- How did you protect yourself? (Lashing out? Creating some emotional and/or physical distance?)
Were you vulnerable enough to tell your partner about this experience? Why or why not? It can be risky and feel unsafe. There are a whole lot of reasons why people don’t want to be completely vulnerable.
Overcoming Intimacy Blocks
1. Name It to Tame It: When you said ___________, I felt ______________. This tapped in to (specific negative thought) I play in my head. That felt scary/threatening. I didn’t like the way that felt, and I reacted by _______________.
2. Active Listening: Recognize that your partner just took a huge risk in doing step 1. If you want them to feel safe being vulnerable with you, Listen for understanding, Restate messages for clarity, Validate feelings, and Empathize.
Thank you for sharing that with me. I know you just took a big risk. What I hear you saying is ______________. I think I understand that you felt ___________ when ____________ happened. That makes sense and I can understand why you are feeling that way.
3. Switch roles: Both parties need to be able to experience safe vulnerably for intimacy to happen.
4. Both parties share willingness to begin repairing the emotional connection.
This is difficult and important work! If you are interested in speaking to a counselor, I would be happy to offer a free 15-minute consult. You can also check out other highly qualified therapist by
zip code on Psychology Today.
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